What kind of feedback are you looking for?

Getting feedback is excellent. Getting the feedback you are looking for is a blessing. Feedback is a broad spectrum; assuming that everybody understands what you need without telling them is a highly optimistic way of treating such a necessary process.

To take a great example I noticed online:

You take your car to the mechanic and one of them says: “we noticed all your doors have rusted out, you should fix those”. Another one says: “LOVE THE RUSTED DOORS, have you considered adding a flamethrower”. The third one says: “it is not a horse”

Is this helpful feedback? It depends on what you were looking for. You got some feedback if you just wanted to ensure it was not a horse. If you wanted to know if the yellow and red colour scheme was a good idea, you still do not understand (even though the flamethrower could add some vibrant red to it).

Make it explicit

Be explicit about what you want to have feedback on. It doesn’t mean you will assume you are 100% right on the elements you do not ask for feedback on. If you do not narrow your scope of input needed, people will give you their best efforts to help you without knowing what you need help with. And that could result in getting feedback on exactly the things you did not need.

Therefore, narrowing it down when asking for feedback and explaining why you do this will help create relevance for you to move on. If you want to, and you feel people want to give more feedback, you can always open some more doors, but be clear that this is not your focus and that you might not address this feedback immediately.

And keep in mind, be careful to open pandora’s box. Only ask for feedback if you are willing to handle it.

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You don’t have to be 100% sure

“Are you sure?” you have received this question, and you have asked this question numerous times. There is only a yes or no answer, and either you agree or disagree with the answer. There is little space for discussion.

How sure are you?

Instead of asking if somebody is sure, ask them how confident they are.

We would be better served as communicators and decision-makers if we thought less about whether we are confident in our beliefs and more about how confident we are. Instead of thinking of confidence as all-or-nothing (“I’m confident” or “I’m not confident”), our expression of our confidence would then capture all the shades of grey in between.

Annie Duke

From a black and white answer, the answer changes into a range: I am 60 to 80% sure. And with that, you can have a meaningful discussion on why the level of confidence is on that level and, more importantly, how you can move further up in confidence level.

Improve your decisions

A good decision combines how incomplete your information is and luck. When you make confidence into a range, you give uncertainty an explicit position in your decision making. It will allow you to measure it and work towards complete information.

Furthermore, instead of two competing views (0% sure or 100%), there is now a view on which you can collaborate to close the gap.

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Morning rituals

You do not have to get up at 0300 and run a marathon in the morning to be successful. There are many other ways to get started with your days (or do it later in the day, whatever is best for you).

Consider these four elements when crafting your day:

Set your day with intention

Our intention creates our reality

Wayne Dyer

Decide for you what this day will be about. Will you finish a big piece of work, or will you attend meetings the whole day? Be intentional about what you will do and accept that you are not always in control of how your day will go.

It is not about achieving your intention. It is about working towards it.

Focus on you

Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

Spend enough time with the most crucial person in your life: you. Do not touch your phone. For example, walk (or run that marathon) for a reasonable amount of time.

Be alone with only your thoughts.

Practice mindfulness

A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open

Frank Zappa

Observe where you are, what you are doing and what is going on around you. Mindfulness is not an exercise to see if you are in the right place and if the right things are going. It is observing without judgement. Some people like to write this down in a journal. For some others, just the thinking is enough.

Practice gratitude

Feel compliments as deeply as you feel insults.

James Clear

It is easy to focus on what you need to do and what could be better. Though press pause and look around. What are the things you can be grateful for? Take your time for it and enjoy it. Also, is there anything you are thankful for that you can share with others?

Keep in mind: how you start your day and when you start your day is up to you. Pick something that works for you and that you enjoy. Remember that it is consistency that drives your progress.

You have to find your own rainbow to follow. There is no gold at the end of somebody else’s rainbow.

Bill Grundfest

Play according to the rules

Whatever you do and wherever you are, you need to know the rules. Not just the rules others set for you, but also the rules you set for others.

If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes and the quitting time

Chinese Proverb

Use the rules to your advantage

One of the best usages of rules to somebody’s advantage was one of the first project managers I was reporting to. Whenever there was a request to add or change something in the project, he always had the same answer:

Of course, we can do this. Though tell me, are we getting more money?
[….]
Or are you okay that we will delay the project by a couple of days?
[…]
Though, of course, we can also not do some other things?
[…]
Just let me know what you want to do.

The sheer enjoyment on his face was radiant, and to be honest, it was spreading to everybody in this project. Sometimes a little bit less for the person who requested the change.

What he did so brilliantly was using the rules that everybody agreed upon before to his advantage to ensure the project was in a stable state. Because everybody decided upon the rules, there might have been a bit of friction, but still, everybody knows that this is what they signed up for.

Be clear on the rules

Rules only exist in-game (and at work) when the players agree on them. If there is no agreement, there are no rules, and when there are no rules, do you want to participate? Make the implicit explicit and define the rules together, and share this with all participants for agreement. The rules are there to protect them and protect the overall game’s (or work’s) integrity and, of course, protect you.

Furthermore, have you noticed that it is a lot easier to push back when you can say: Sorry, there is a rule for that. Instead of: No, I cannot do this.

Rules can make decisions easier, do not shy away from them. Make the implicit explicit to make your life easier.

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What to read to make better decisions

If you want to get better at making decisions, it is essential to pay attention to your decision-making process and what external and internal factors influence it. To help you become a better decision-maker, I recommend five books to read. As you can see in the visual below, these books all nicely connect and provide you with a vast spectrum for decision-making.

How the five books overlap and complete each other

1. How to Decide by Annie Duke

If you want to be a better decision-maker, this book takes you through proper exercises and approaches. It will give you insights into your current pitfalls and tangible strategies to improve. The predecessor of this book, Thinking in Bets is also very much worthy of your time.

There are two ways uncertainty intervenes in the decision process: imperfect information and luck. Imperfect information intervenes before the decision. Luck intervenes after the decision but before the outcome.

Annie Duke – How to decide

2. Think Again by Adam Grant

Of course, you are always right, but what if that is not the case. Learn the critical art of rethinking, question your opinions and open other people’s mind. Get to know what you do not know. The book Give and Take by Adam Grant might open you up to a whole different view on what kind of decision you take (hint: being a giver is beneficial in the longer run)

“The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.”

Adam Grant – Think Again

3. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

What should you do in a hostage situation? Hopefully, you are never in one, but negotiation is a daily activity. This book takes you through the practice and the science of negotiation. It should get you closer to the desired decisions made by the people on the other side of the table.

Good negotiators, going in, know they have to be ready for possible surprises; great negotiators aim to use their skills to reveal the surprises they are certain exist.

Chris Voss – Never split the difference

4. Catalyst by Jonah Berger

This book is a nice mix between scientific background and practical applications. Catalysts remove roadblocks and reduce barriers to change. This is an excellent read if you are working in a changing environment (100% chance you are ;)).

When it comes to trying to create change, people rarely think about removing roadblocks. When asked how to change someone’s mind, 99 percent of the answers focus on some version of pushing. 

Jonah Berger – Catalyst

5. Noise by Daniel Kahneman

this book connects them all. Why do different people make different decisions in identical situations? Why are we making bad judgements, and how to improve on this. Of course, Thinking Fast and Slow is a classic also to pick up, but it is a heavy book. Noise is more accessible and touches upon many similar topics.

Intelligence is only part of the story, however. How people think is also important. Perhaps we should pick the most thoughtful, open-minded person, rather than the smartest one.

Daniel Kahneman – Noise
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When are decisions easy?

Please do not spend too much time overthinking easy decisions, even though they might appear tricky. A good decision is not about having a great result. Results are often out of your control. It is about having a good process:

Determining whether a decision is good or bad means examining the quality of the beliefs informing the decision, the available options, and how the future might turn out given any choice you make.

Annie Duke – How to decide

Cost of changing your mind

Some decisions are free, which means if you now choose A and A is not the thing that works for you. You can still select B for zero additional costs. Now it doesn’t matter if you choose A or B. If there are no costs (money, time etc.) for selecting another option, later on, pick the one you think is right now since you can always switch.

Outcomes do not matter

When it doesn’t matter where you go, why spend additional time thinking of where you should go. If all outcomes are useful and prioritisation does not improve any of them. Pick one, run with it and evaluate if anything has changed for your subsequent decisions.

Deciding what to do automatically is also a decision about what not to do. This implies that when you evaluate afterwards, you should look at what has changed because of your action and what has been impacted by your inaction in other areas.

Difficult choices between options

Often when a decision between two or more options is hard, then the decision is probably easy. The reason the decision is hard is often that the options are close. If the difference between the two options is slight, does it matter what you choose? (of course, it partially depends on the costs of changing your mind).

Decisions aren’t always easy

Wouldn’t it be nice when decision making would always be so easy? A good process will make your life easier:

What makes a decision great is not that it has a great outcome. A great decision is the result of a good process, and that process must include an attempt to accurately represent our own state of knowledge. That state of knowledge, in turn, is some variation of “I’m not sure.”

Annie Duke – Thinking in bets

If you want to improve your decision process, I recommend reading both Thinking in Bets and How to decide by Annie Duke. Both books provide you with many insights into your decision process and how you can improve.

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